A Year of WFH: Seven lessons from managers on how to keep your team’s morale up

Working during the pandemic has been a struggle for everyone – here’s how managers can help their employees deal with the ongoing stress

managers share tips on WFH
With remote work still around for the foreseeable future, how can managers support their teams?
(Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash)

In the year since the first national lockdown was announced, we’ve had to adapt to what the media quickly dubbed the ‘new normal’. For some, this was unemployment or furlough. For others, it has been working from home (WFH). And while undoubtedly many would consider themselves lucky to have job security in these uncertain times, WFH has not been without its challenges. 

Coworking space providers HubbleHQ recently reported that an original survey titled Should we ditch the office found working from home had a negative mental health impact on 20% of respondents, while a further 34% blamed the lack of physical workspace for the disruption of their work-life balance. Meanwhile, a whooping 75% of those surveyed shared that they missed social interaction in the new WFH environment. 

Respondents also list distractions and poor communication in the top five negative effects of WFH (Source: HubbleHQ)

The past 12 months have been even more trying for managers, who, alongside getting used to a new routine themselves, have been tasked with looking after their team’s wellbeing. And now, with recent Welsh government guidance instructing companies that they would like to have 30% of the Welsh workforce stay remote, it looks like WFH is here to stay.

People look to you for answers and direction

Unfortunately, this is likely to have a knock-on effect on the team morale of employees who’ve been stuck in this situation for a year, so managers need to be even more proactive when supporting their staff. 

Below, three Welsh team managers offer their insights on how to best keep your team motivated:

1. Provide reassurance

It seems one of the biggest challenges for teams big and small has been isolation, and the sudden insecurity about jobs. According to a former manager of a local retailer, the hardest thing about being a manager in lockdown is displaying confidence in the face of change. 

“People look to you for answers and direction,” she says. “Having a positive mindset is key.”

Daniel Lewis, director of marketing agency Spindogs, shares the sentiment. For him reassuring his team that their jobs are safe and the company can weather the storm financially was a priority from the start of lockdown.

And, apparently, transparent communication paid off. “Fortunately the team responded amazingly,” Daniel shares. “We couldn’t have asked for more.”

Scott McCaffrey, web and content team line manager at University of South Wales, echoes the sentiment. “I’ve found that the best way to motivate my team is to simply be there, to listen, to offer advice,” he shares. In these difficult times, Scott aims to be approachable and be there for people to offer guidance when they need it. 

2. Find the balance with virtual meetings

Communication is key. But with only digital coworking platforms to rely on, it’s not always easy, reveals the former retail manager, especially for teams not used to working entirely online.

There’s also the video meeting fatigue, adds Scott. For him the obvious solution is to cut out unnecessary meetings. Forced daily meetings at 9am on the dot, he says, are “often unnecessary, awkward and a waste of time.”

Instead, Scotts suggests having meetings when they are needed. Good managers know if their employees need regular chats or if that drains them, he points out. A weekly catch up at 10:30am on Monday works perfectly for his team, Scott shares, “and then throughout the week it’s based on each person’s meeting fatigue.” 

3. Embrace flexible working days

Another common thread that managers from across industries are seeing is the collapse of the rigid work schedule. Unsurprisingly, with employees working from home alongside partners, children, or with the mental health strain of isolation, supervisors are having to adapt their approach. 

managers should take into account their employees' home situation
Staff with young children may not be online at 9am sharp, says Scott (Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash)

According to Scott, it’s a manager duty to understand the environments their staff are working within and ensure that everyone can actively manage both home and work life. “Give people the tools they need to manage their time without making them feel guilty,” he advises. 

If his team are able to fulfill their tasks to a satisfactory standard, albeit slightly slower, Scott takes no issue with people being flexible. “It’s difficult enough right now, and we need to support each other.”

Daniel shares that Spindogs has also recognised the need for a non-formalised working day. “As long as the team are able to deliver their work commitments, we’re flexible as to when work gets done during the working day.”

4. Make extra effort with new staff

“Learning a new role in lockdown is not easy,” points out the former retail manager. She rightly observes that work life is more challenging when you can’t meet people face to face. After all, it’s harder to build relationships over video calls. 

Daniel agrees that onboarding of new starters while the whole company is working from home has been a unique challenge.

It’s difficult enough right now, and we need to support each other

Recent recruits who have never physically met their colleagues or stepped foot into the office are in danger of missing out on the culture, he says, as well as  the opportunities to make friends and the learning that occurs naturally in an open office environment.

Integration of new team members is crucial, shares Daniel. “We’ve had to make them feel at home as quickly as possible,” he adds. Spindogs has done this by ensuring recent employees are in regular contact with their teammates and line managers.

5. Know what your staff needs

According to the Spindogs director, for managers WFH means maintaining work quality and efficiency, while also making sure that everyone is properly motivated and feels like part of the team.

Unsurprisingly, in Daniel’s experience the biggest challenges to motivation in the WFH setup have been fatigue and remoteness. He shares that alongside the usual online quizzes and socials, scheduling non-work related catch-ups helps the team feel like part of a greater whole, and therefore less isolated.

Scott, meanwhile, believes the key is to understand when staff may be feeling a bit stuck, as well as how and when they are motivated to work. Base workload on this, he recommends, either by bringing someone out of their rut with a new project, or assigning them something a little less challenging to keep their mind ticking over. 

“Mental health is so important,” Scott warns, “and it’s a balancing act that managers need to be very careful with.”

6. Set a good example of flexible working

Scott also makes a point of sharing with his team when he takes advantage of flexible working, whether that’s going for a long walk with his dog or making a fancy coffee. He acknowledges that sometimes workloads get in the way of enjoying the situation we are all in. “But I do everything I can to make sure that me and my team can enjoy working and living at home.”

The result? Scott’s team have struck a great balance which allows them to produce high standard work while also enjoying their surroundings. “We support each other’s mental health and home responsibilities,” he shares, “and this trust has brought out the best in all of us.”

7. Welcome change

It might sound simple, but the managers all seem to agree – checking in with your team is the key to supporting them effectively during lockdown and WFH. Mastering that personal approach will not only help you keep the team morale up now, but will likely come in handy going forward in a workspace that’s been changed forever. 

for a lot of managers, hybrid working setup is the way forward
Businesses would have a more flexible approach to office work in the future (Photo by Magenta Photography)

Looking ahead, Daniel reveals that Spindogs will maintain a physical office, but take a much more flexible approach to the working hours, which aligns with the wider narrative across the country. 

The Financial Times recently interviewed over 20 organisations, including some of the UK’s largest banks and telecommunications companies, and the majority are expecting their post-pandemic model of working to be a hybrid between office and home working. 

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine more Welsh businesses taking a similar stance.

Break up your WFH workload with a hobby
(Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash)

WFH self-care essentials 

A checklist of reminders to help keep the daily stress at bay:
  • What’s your playlist mood today? 
  • Have you left your desk in the last two hours?
  • Have you taken a lunch break?
  • Have you left the house today?
  • Have you checked in with your colleagues today
  • What are you treating yourself to today?
  • How do you plan to unwind this evening